Is honey bee vomit? When you are into beekeeping, you hear this question all the time. This question has long been the subject of debate and still remains unsettled.
Many argue that it is not, while others keep insisting it is. And yet, many are still passive as to say, “Vomit or not vomit, who cares? After all, it tastes great!”
Now, who would think that a golden syrup as sweet as honey would be vomit ejected by the bees? This blog post delves into the answer to this question.
But first, we need to do some background discussion on how honey bees make honey to better understand each side’s point of view.
How do Bees Make Honey?
Discussing the basics of the process of honey-making can reveal each side of the answer to our main question above.
Honey bees forage on the nectars and pollen of flowers for food. These nectars and pollens are brought back to the hive by our six-legged friends to feed their young. An extra supply of gathered nectars is stored in the hive to make honey.
When the bees kiss the flowers, they suck up and collect fresh nectar. This nectar goes inside a bee’s mouth, passes its esophagus, and is stored in its “honey stomach,” a second stomach also known as the “crop.”
When the bees have filled their honey stomachs with nectar, they fly back to the hive to store the nectar. Once back in the hive, the bees spit out the nectars from their stomachs, known as the regurgitation process, and pass them to worker bees for further processing.
The Misconception About Honey as Vomit
The common misconception that honey is bee vomit is supported by the fact that nectar, used to make honey, is taken in by the bees in their crops.
While flying back to the hives, the nectar in the crop mixes with enzymes that change its chemical composition. Once back in the beehive, our industrious foragers “spat” out (regurgitated) the nectar and passed it to another worker bee.
There’s more to the honey-making process than this, but we’ll stop there for a while to go back to the main topic of this blog post.
Why Honey Is Technically Not Bee Vomit
Eric Mussen, a former member of the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of California-Davis, has a more technical description of this process.
The Crop or “Honey Stomach”
The nectar gathered from flowers is stored in the crop. This second stomach is different from the main stomach, where food eaten by bees is stored and processed. This distinct part of a bee’s anatomy differentiates it from other animals.
The crop does not digest nectars. It is merely a storage unit to hold nectar in the bee’s body. Its sole purpose is to store the nectar gathered by the bees until such time that they are back in their hives and can spit it out.
Do Honey Bees Vomit Nectar Stored On Their Honey Stomachs?
Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology also made a distinction between vomiting and regurgitation. The distinction explains why honey could not be bee vomit, technically.
In simple terms, honey cannot be vomit from bees because it never reaches the stomach and gets mixed with digested, processed, or to-be-processed foods. The bee does not vomit the nectar. It regurgitates the nectar. Hence, it cannot be called “vomit.”
Vomiting vs. Regurgitating
That technical difference between regurgitating and vomiting excludes the possibility that honey is made from bee vomit.
In vomiting, foods that are ingested and processed (or about to be processed) in the stomach are thrown up and excreted out of the mouth.
In most cases, vomiting is involuntary. Contents of the stomach are ejected through the mouth. This usually occurs after some time that the animal has consumed food.
A vomit usually contains digested food as it has already reached the stomach and intestines.
In regurgitation, food taken into the esophagus is brought back up to the mouth. In most cases, this happens a short time after or right after an animal takes in food.
What comes up in regurgitation is usually undigested food since it has only passed through the esophagus and has not been processed internally yet.
In bees, regurgitation is the ejection of the stored nectars from the crop and out of the bee’s mouth.
Based on the discussion above, technically speaking, honey is NOT bee vomit.
Bees gather nectar from flowers. These bees store these nectars in their crops or honey stomachs. Then, bees regurgitate these nectars from their honey stomachs. It is not the same thing as ingesting pollen and nectar as food.
Again, there is a distinction between vomiting and regurgitating. This distinction would be enough to dispel the notion that honey could never bee vomit.